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10 Reasons to Shout Louder about Unfair Trade

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In Focus87 Deirdre Kelly reminds us of the importance of tackling global trade injustice.

Before you finish eating breakfast this morning you’ve depended on more than half the world.’ (Martin Luther King Jr.) The half of the world we depend on to get our breakfast – tea, coffee, orange juice, bananas, sugar – is the poor half. This dependence is not just for breakfast however, it extends to clothes, raw materials for our computers and mobile phones and the cheap labour that puts these things together. If we’re so dependent on the poor half of the world for everything we use, how is it that we’re the rich ones? Unfair trade is one of the reasons.

1. Trade is worth more than aid: trade has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. The value of trade is worth more to poor countries than development aid. However, poor countries lose more through unfair trade deals than they receive in aid.

2. Unfair trade deals are brought about by unfair negotiations: where there is a power imbalance between rich and poor countries. Rich countries have been known to threaten to cut aid to poor countries if they vote against trade deals.

3. Nobody else is doing it: unfortunately trade is one of the least popular development topics. Lots of organisations work on issues like HIV & Aids, climate change or children’s rights, but fewer organisations take on trade as a topic. This is a real reason for you to shout louder about it!

4. Unfair trade prevents poor countries adding value to their exports: for a jar of coffee that costs €2.50 here, the coffee producer in the Global South earns only 17 cents. The profits go to those who process the beans into a finished product. To make real profits from their raw materials poor countries need to develop processing industries. However, unfair trade deals prevent them from supporting their emerging industries. This means they get stuck in the poverty trap of exporting raw materials to rich countries who then process them into something more valuable.

5. Global trade rules are hypocritical and cause unfair competition: Although poor countries are not allowed to subsidise their industries, their markets are open to some EU goods which have been subsidised. This makes the competition unfair and can cause local industries to go out of business.

6. Unfair deals are being signed in your name: the EU negotiates trade deals with the rest of the world as a bloc. TDs and MEPs throughout Europe have been elected by us, so the deals they sign which exploit other countries have our names on them.

7. Corporate interests are shouting the loudest: there are 15,000 corporate lobbyists in Brussels shouting loudly about their interests, while there are only a handful of NGOs working there to support fair trade.

8. Unfair trade costs poor governments valuable revenue: through free trade deals all countries, rich and poor, are required to reduce and eventually remove taxes on goods coming into their country. For rich countries this tax is worth about 5% of their overall tax revenue, but for poor countries it is worth up to 40%. By lowering these taxes poor countries lose valuable income which could fund essential services such as education and healthcare for their people.

9. Unfair trade agreements leave no policy space: when rich countries were developing they had the space to decide how to develop their economies and could develop policies to suit their situation. For poor countries, (unfair) trade deals lock them into particular policies which will determine their future development. They are not being allowed the space to decide for themselves which policies they want to pursue.

10. We’re all part of the game: we are all inextricably involved in the trade game because we buy things, pay tax, vote, exchange our labour for money etc. We can’t escape it, so the only thing we can do is try to make the rules of the game fair so trade can be used as a tool to promote development. What can you do? It’s over to you… Acting for trade justice can range from using your consumer power to buy ethically made and sustainable products, using your voice to raise concerns about the impact of Ireland’s trade policies with your political representatives to debating, learning more about and campaigning on the issues. For those who want to get more active, Comhlámh’s Trade Group is always looking for new members!


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